The tradition of having a bonfire and staying up of most of
the night has its origins in the mists of time, and it is often
thought that the feast day of Saint John the Baptist celebrated
by the Catholic Church was originally a pagan celebration.
Since the days of New France, Saint John the Baptist has been
considered the patron saint of French-Canadians, and his feast
day (24 June) was instituted as a national holiday in Quebec by
Ludger Durvernay in 1834. The custom was carried over to New
England by the large community of migrant workers and throughout
the rest of Canada by French-Canadians.
Early French-speaking settlers were not long in establishing
the Saint-Jean Baptiste Society in Alberta (a militant
nationalistic organization) but it eventually lost the
nationalistic fervour which dominated the organization in
Quebec. Today in Quebec, the religious aspect of the holiday has
been removed from the celebration and the day is known as the
National Holiday (la Fête Nationale). In France, where bonfires
and all-night celebrations were traditionally held, the day is
now celebrated through music; everyone who can play is expected
to take out his instrument to entertain friends and neighbours.
24 June is still celebrated as the Saint-Jean Baptiste Day in
some regions of Alberta, but it does not rally the hundreds it
used to. Nevertheless, the day has become more of an occasion to
celebrate the summer solstice.
The 2004 Saint-Jean festivities of the Bonnyville franco
community, which were held at the Camp Saint-Louis on the shores
of Moose Lake, have been celebrated as long as anyone can
remember. It seems that Saint John has been celebrated in the
area since the arrival of the first settlers. The region has
long hours of daylight at the solstice, with only a few hours of
darkness. As the winter solstice is the reverse, the local
residents make the most of the summer light. In the Peace River
region, where they very nearly have the midnight sun, residents
also celebrate the Saint-Jean-Baptiste and the summer solstice.